Pubdate: Tue, 20 May 2003
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2003 Southam Inc.
Author: Bruce Mirken
Note: Headline by newshawk


The Post is to be commended for its level-headed approach to reform of 
Canada's marijuana laws (Which is Worse, Marijuana or Guns?, editorial, May 
17). But the assumption that reduced penalties for possession will lead to 
greater marijuana use, cultivation and export requires closer examination.

In fact, this is one of the great urban legends of our time. A dozen states 
in the United States and several in Australia have enacted reforms similar 
to what Canada is now considering -- treating marijuana possession as a 
relatively minor infraction, punishable by a fine, not jail. After 
reviewing data available on the impact of these laws, the U.S. National 
Research Council concluded in April, 2001: "Existing research seems to 
indicate there is little apparent relationship between the severity of 
sanctions prescribed for drug use and prevalence or frequency of use ... 
Most cross-state comparisons .. found no significant differences in the 
prevalence of marijuana use in decriminalized and non-decriminalized states."

As for cultivation, the states listed in the U.S. Justice Department's 2003 
Drug Threat Assessment as major and increasing sources of domestically 
grown marijuana include Florida, Tennessee and Kentucky -- all of which 
impose harsh prison terms for possession of small amounts.

Urban legends still drive U.S. marijuana policy, but Canada can do better.

Bruce Mirken, director of communications, Marijuana Policy Project, 
Washington, D.C.
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